It’s Wednesday and so, yeah, today already feels like a downer. People that say, “just two days before the weekend” are wrong. It’s three. Today counts. Don’t be one of those people. Not helping matters is the fact that Archie Bradley pitched super awesome last night until he basically got destroyed. That happened in his previous start, too. The D-backs’ “winning streak” got snapped at three, which is barely a “winning streak” by definition and tells you all you need to know about this season. Even worse, they have to face Clayton Kershaw da GAWD this afternoon and you can probably guess how that’s gonna go. I’ve had my coffee and today doesn’t feel any better post-caffeine. That’s how you know you’re in trouble.
Last week, Kelvin broke the news that the team is basically out of contention already. He stopped just short of ordering them to waive the white flag, but if this month doesn’t somehow turn around in a hurry and the team doesn’t proceed to win like ten of it’s next twelve, 2016 is basically over. We said all along that the time to contend was 2017-2018, and even though the front office decided not to wait that long, it’s looking like they’re back to focussing their efforts on the future. The contention window isn’t one season long, sure, but it also just got one season shorter and there are fewer resources to allocate going forward. Do with that what you will.
Out of contention, Arizona will be forced into the role of sellers come the trade deadline. That’s not what the organization wanted, but it’s not exactly unforeseen, either. They weren’t a great team on paper, even if there were some tangible reasons to think that the projections were unkind. Regardless, being put into the “sellers” category by the rest of the league apparently has Dave Stewart’s phone ringing.
#DBacks GM Dave Stewart: Teams calling on potential FA relievers Ziegler, Hudson. AZ will consider extensions for both before deadline.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 15, 2016
Brad Ziegler and Daniel Hudson are prototypical trade deadline candidates. Relievers always move around in July as contenders are looking to lock up extra bullpen help as they push for the playoffs. Selling teams are always trying to drive a hard bargain and force contenders to overpay for relievers at the same time, something that has some historical precedent despite the fact that the trade deadline has been somewhat quiet over the past few seasons. The team isn’t going to trade any position players and there’s basically nothing to sell from the rotation, so the focus moves to the bullpen. Even there, only a handful of guys have trade value. Outside of Ziegler and Hudson, they might be able to find a team interested in Tyler Clippard and Jake Barrett, but they just signed Clippard to a two-year deal and Barrett is under team control for the next five seasons. Ziegler and Hudson make the most sense, plus they’re probably the best of this bunch.
With their contracts set to expire at the end of the season, the second sentence of Rosenthal’s tweet becomes important. The team presumably doesn’t want to spend huge on rebuilding the bullpen this winter if they did trade Ziegler and Hudson, making extensions for each player seem plausible. Hudson, 29, has outright stated that he’d like to stay in Arizona, but given his injury history, will certainly be looking to cash in this winter. Ziegler is older and will turn 37 this October, so his earning potential is seemingly lesser, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down having converted 41-straight save opportunities, placing him 7th on the all time list. While most other teams wouldn’t view him as a closer, he’d still be highly valuable. Since both pitchers would be rentals, it’s hard to imagine Arizona getting a big haul for either one and they’d almost certainly be looking for MLB-ready players in return. This might make extensions look more appealing for the club since the returns would likely be marginal and it would force them to spend big on the relief market this winter.
Just last summer, the D-backs’ very own Tyler Clippard was dealt to the Mets. He fetched Casey Meisner and cash. Meisner is a potential 5th starter or 7th inning arm, checking in at #8 in the Oakland system, one that’s pretty thin. That’s roughly the same projection as Tyler Wagner, whom the D-backs acquired from Milwaukee in the Jean Segura trade. Jonathan Papelbon got moved at the deadline, too, returning Nick Pivetta to the Phillies. He didn’t make Philadelphia’s top ten list and while he possess a big arm, he walks too many batters at present to be seen as a lock to even reach the majors as anything more than a bullpen arm. These types of returns dampen expectations of what the team could feasibly get for their expiring relievers, making extensions seem even more palatable. The days of teams overpaying dearly for relief arms on expiring deals is all but done. Rumors of what the Reds wanted for Aroldis Chapman were extreme, but the price Cincinnati asked was too high for the market and neither Ziegler or Hudson is Chapman, plus both have less time remaining on their team-friendly deals than Chapman did at the time. There’s no huge haul coming back for either Ziegler or Hudson, and even packaging them together in one trade might net less than the team would care to receive.
Extensions are always tricky, but one would have to imagine the team would keep a Ziegler extension to two years and be hard-pressed to give more than three to Hudson. Neither would be extended a qualifying offer. Here are a few deals from last winter to provide some insight as to where the market went with free agent relievers:
- John Axford: 2-years, $10 million
- Trevor Cahill: 1-year, $4.25 million
- Steve Cishek: 2-years, $10 million
- Tyler Clippard: 2-years, $12.25 million
- J.P. Howell: 1-year, $6.25 million
- Shawn Kelley: 3-years, $15 million
- Mark Lowe: 2-years, $11 million
- Jason Motte: 2-years, $10 million
- Darren O’Day: 4-years, $31 million
- Joakim Soria: 3-years, $25 million
We can look at this and determine that “okay” relievers are getting about $5 million a season. Both Ziegler and Huson are better than “okay.” The “premier” relievers like O’Day and Soria were closer to $8.5 million per season. Just eyeballing things, it looks like Ziegler could be due something like 2-years, $15 million and Hudson could garner 3-years and $21 million with, say, a vesting option for a fourth year at close to $10 million dollars (given inflation). To extend both players might cost Arizona something like $35 million in future obligations. The benefit here is that they wouldn’t have to compete for these players on the open market, but expecting Hudson to take a hometown discount is foolish and Ziegler likely wants one more quality payday before he rides off into the sunset. If extensions get done, they won’t be cheap.
Of course, there is a third path here. The team could sit both players down and check in on team-friendly extensions. If both decline, the team could trade the players with the understanding in place that they’ll be pushing hard for them this winter and there are no hard feelings, it’s just business. The team could take whatever trade packages they can manage before August, then look to spend a bit more to return Ziegler and/or Hudson to the franchise this winter. In essence, they’d be paying whatever the margin is to sign the player on the open market versus an extension, but receiving a couple of players back in return. This has tremendous risk as it exposes both players to other teams who might be willing to outbid Arizona, but it has the perks of acquiring a couple of close-to-majors prospects. Really, this would just be a matter of how bold the front office feels like being. With Chapman and Mark Melancon being free agents this winter, the team will have options, but they’ll likely be higher priced ones than what they have in-house.
The direction they go is apparently not up to Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa entirely. As Rosenthal followed up, ownership will weigh heavy.
#DBacks‘ Stewart said that he will need to speak with ownership before determining exactly how to proceed with Ziegler, Hudson.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 15, 2016
This is a whole other issue for another time, but it sounds like the team isn’t exactly sure which road to go down at the moment. I’m sure if they had it their way, both Ziegler and Hudson would sign team-friendly extensions, but that’s far from a guarantee. Both players have signed team-friendly deals in the past and it’s unclear if that’s something they’d like to repeat or if now is the time to push the envelop a little. I’d bet on the latter.
This leaves the Diamondbacks in a tricky position, but they do have options. It’s hard to see them getting much in return for trading either of these two relievers. It’s also hard to see them getting cheap extensions done with them. Both are appealing options that will draw interest this winter should Arizona hold on to them a the deadline. The risk of trading, then trying to re-sign both players is high, but potentially pays the largest dividends. Without the money to really rebuild the back end of the bullpen on the open market in a strong way, it could force them into more talent-draining trades should they let Ziegler and Hudson walk. This is a tough situation, one the team never wanted to be in in the first place. Yet here they are, and being committed to contending in the immediate future, they’ll have to pay some kind of price to keep the back end of the bullpen solid. It’s just a matter of what kind of price they’re willing to pay.
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